For safeties coach Matt Caponi, that's a rather easy read at the spur position, where Kyzir White has locked down the starting role. White (6-2, 218 lbs) started every game in which he appeared last season, missing the Baylor contest because of a hand injury. Then a junior, White was able to bounce back from missing the regular season finale to record six tackles, including one for loss, in the Russell Athletic Bowl defeat against Miami. With a rare combination of size and speed, White's physicality made a perfect complement to WVU's scheme last season, and the same will be expected this year, especially after White went through spring drills after missing them last season.
"His biggest asset is his length; for a bigger guy, he can run," Caponi said. "Doesn't always look great doing it, but he practiced hard and we are slowly trying to get him to become more of a leader because guys will follow what he does. Having the spring this year helps him with what he is doing and some of the techniques he needs to work on."
At bandit, West Virginia continues to work heavily with Toyous Avery in hopes the 2016 junior college transfer can pick back up where he left off last season. Avery (5-11, 202 lbs.) played in five regular season games for WVU before getting the starting nod ahead of Jeremy Tyler at free safety for the bowl game. Playing alongside White, back from the hand injury, and bandit Jarrod Harper, Avery had two interceptions called back by penalty in the contest, and finished with a season-best five tackles that game. Avery slid to bandit this spring, giving the secondary some consistency, and will be the primary option heading into the fall ahead of younger players like Derrek Pitts and even JoVanni Stewart, who has played primarily at free ahead of the still-recovering Dravon Askew-Henry this spring.
Avery shows solid coverage skills and a knack for breaking on the ball and the ability to make plays in space. A rising junior, Avery played 404 snaps last season, including 243 on defense, and was named WVU's Special Teams Champion against Baylor. With his coverage skills, combined with a tenacity to get players on the ground, the Covington, Ga. native has the desired skill set for the hybrid spot.
"He's been strictly bandit for us," Caponi said of Avery. "He's the guy we are looking forward to developing a little more this summer. By fall camp he will be the guy we are looking at to secure that position down, hopefully as a starter. Try to build some depth behind him, but you saw him progress towards the end of last year when he got healthy, playing a ton towards the end of the season and starting the bowl game. Definitely been impressed by him. He is one of our more physical guys on the tackle that we like that bandit position to be. He's been pretty solid for us."
Behind Avery, West Virginia has worked with in-state recruits in Pitts and Dante Bonamico at bandit, the latter of which made a handful of plays in the April 8 scrimmage, according to defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. Brandan Rivers is has also gotten reserve snaps there. At spur, White is backed by Marvin Gross, who has been solid in the spring but could have a difficult time ultimately closing the gap on White. Gross played in 13 games last season as a junior, starting one, and finished with 24 tackles, including three for loss, with one interception, two forced fumbles and one pass breakup."
"I've challenged those (upperclassmen) to be leaders the last two years and I think it helps having some experienced guys back there, older guys," Caponi said. "They know they aren't going to be (the only) guys. What happens below them from a depth standpoint (dictates) how our program and our season goes. They know they have to help those young guys, whether it's how we train, how we practice, the demands of what we expect and helping those guys with the scheme when we are not around in the summer time. When they are doing 7-on-7 and some team stuff together as a group without us there, it is making sure those guys are doing the right thing and correcting them. It's important, even though they will be battling competition-wise."
Besides Askew-Henry, expected to assume the starting role upon his full return in the fall, and Stewart, Shane Commodore, Osman Kamara and Deamonte Lindsay provide some depth, though the majority of their play is likely to come on special teams. The Mountaineers will enroll four more safeties by the summer or fall in recruits Ricky Johns, Collin Smith, Eugene Brown and Kenny Robinson.
"(The spring) gives you a framework for the fall camp," Caponi said. "You know which guys you are going to look to help build depth. You got a decent idea of who your starters are going to be going into camp. That can change because you still have 20-some practices before your first game. It gives you a good baseline of what you can plan for in the summertime and into fall camp.
"We have a long way to go. They have gotten better, but I don't know that they do anything well. They practice hard, which makes up for a lot of deficiencies. That's always something I am on them about. I don't care what you screw up, you better be going 110 miles and hour when you do it. I'll evaluate their performance this spring and sit down and meet with them and let them know certain, specific techniques or scheme stuff that they need to work on so they can develop it through the summertime."